STOCK Gita Gopinath
Gita Gopinath, the Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund, Image Credit: AP

Washington: International Monetary Fund chief economist Gita Gopinath, the first woman to serve in that role, will rejoin Harvard University in January to retain her tenured faculty post after three years of public service leave.

Gopinath plans to depart the IMF to return to the school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, early next year, she said Tuesday in an emailed response to questions from Bloomberg News.

The normal maximum public service leave granted under Harvard’s rules is two consecutive years. The university had extended her leave by one year on an exceptional basis, Gopinath said.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to work with my incredibly dedicated staff colleagues and fund management and to make a contribution to helping the IMF’s 190 member countries recover from this crisis caused by the global pandemic,” she said. “I look forward to continuing to do so over the next several months before returning to Harvard in January.”

The IMF confirmed Gopinath’s planned departure in a separate statement Tuesday, saying that the search for her successor will begin shortly. Harvard’s press department declined to comment.

“Gita’s contribution to the fund and our membership has been truly remarkable,” Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said. “We benefited immensely from her sharp intellect and deep knowledge of international finance and macroeconomics.”

IMF chief economists over the past two decades have typically held the post for two to three years, with the exception of Olivier Blanchard, who served for seven.

The Indian-born Gopinath, 49, joined the Washington-based lender at the start of 2019, succeeding Maury Obstfeld. She was appointed by then-Managing Director Christine Lagarde, becoming the fund’s first female chief economist since its establishment in 1944.

Back to Harvard

Gopinath had taught in Harvard’s economics department since 2005. She holds a doctorate in economics from Princeton University, where Ben Bernanke was among her advisers before he became Federal Reserve chairman. Another adviser was Ken Rogoff, one of Gopinath’s predecessors as IMF chief economist.

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Gopinath led the IMF’s research department through the pandemic era and a 2020 recession that was the worst peacetime decline since the Great Depression.

Her departure is unrelated to recent accusations that Georgieva improperly influenced a World Bank ranking of China’s business climate when she was a top official there. The scandal has brought IMF data and forecasts under increasing scrutiny and poses a challenge to the fund in terms of protecting its reputation and credibility.

Georgieva has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and the IMF board last week said its investigation didn’t conclusively demonstrate that she played an improper role in the report in question.

In an interview with Bloomberg Television last week, Gopinath said that the integrity of the IMF’s data is paramount and that she is confident in its processes.

Gopinath said that she “personally never faced” pressure at the IMF to make data fit any particular narratives.

Checks, balances

“We place an incredible amount of importance on data integrity at the IMF,” she said in the interview. “We have many checks and balances - multiple departments, multiple economists reviewing our data and forecasts, so I feel good about where we are.”

In the IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook last week, the fund expressed concern the global economic recovery has lost momentum and become increasingly divided, even as it stuck by its prediction for a robust rebound from the Covid-19 recession.